Recently, two major players in the fast food industry underwent a massive merger. Inconic Canadian chain Tim Horton’s and perennial burger joint silver medallist Burger King joined forces in August 2014 with plans for an increased global presence for Tim Horton’s and cheaper corporate taxes for the much larger Burger King contingent. The company will be centred in Oakville, Ont., with much of the company owned by Brazilian private equity firm 3G Capital Inc., who currently own 70% of Burger King.
Right from the start, Canadians cried afoul of the merger, which saw their beloved Timmie’s scooped up by a large American company, even though this was the second time Tim’s had been purchased, since Wendy’s bought Tim Horton’s back in 2006. Americans through dismissals of traitorous behaviour BK’s way, who jumped ship to head to Canada and lower corporate taxes. These cries of dismay eventually subsided, and now a new wave of news articles have began to surface that are condemning the merger. These articles are not centred around patriotism or finance, but environmentalism.
Palm oil is one of the fastest growing cash crops on the planet. Ever since the FDA mandated that trans fats be reported and reduced in many processed food products, many companies sought cheaper lipid alternatives that were largely absent of trans fats, and palm oil topped that list in terms of untapped potential. Native to Africa but predominantly grown in Indonesia and Malaysia, palm oil production has showed no signs of slowing down despite numerous protests from various environmental organizations.
To produce palm oil, thousands of hectares of tropical rainforest needs to be cleared. Many critically endangered species live here, including orang-utans and the Sumatran elephant. All sorts of issues have been encountered with developing a sustainable supply chain of palm oil. Even a “sustainable palm oil” designation from the non profit Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been suspect at best. Despite all this, palm oil production is estimated to destroy 98% of the rain forests in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil sales have increased by 485% in the past decade.
While it’s clear that palm oil is disastrous for the planet, one company is not to blame for the destruction. Boycotting Tim Horton’s because their donuts kill elephants is a straw-man argument at best. Palm oil has an incredibly diverse array of uses, and to pin the blame solely on one company is simply illogical. The story of palm oil runs deep, and there are multiple levels of corruption responsible for the sad state of Indonesian and Malaysian rainforest.
The World Wildlife Fund, famous for its campaigns to save great pandas and tigers in India, are among the worst offenders in the palm oil story. The WWF was the environmental founder of the RSPO, and the “sustainable” designation given to palm oil supposedly produced under their set criteria has been criticized by numerous environmental groups as a form of greenwashing. The palm oil produced under this designation has a shady track record of not living up to the standards set by the WWF, but little to no enforcement of these regulations currently exists.
The palm oil story is indeed a sad one, and a much more sustainable supply chain is needed to ensure stability with future palm oil production. Unfortunately, an incredible amount of products that we use every day include palm oil on their ingredient list. It remains to be seen what sorts of regulations will be enforced with regards to palm oil production as well as the protection and conservation of endangered species affected. One thing remains clear: it is unwise to single out a company for the destruction of Indonesian and Malaysian rain forests when we are just as guilty based on our consumer choices. It would be easy to simply recommend to you to not buy products with palm oil in them, but that would mean giving up things like Nutella, which for 99% of us is simply not going to happen.
One of the long term goals of the Burger King-Tim Horton’s merger is to create the “fastest growing fast food company on the planet”, which at first might spell disaster for rain forests affected by palm oil production, but I consider it an opportunity for this new super firm to take on added responsibility to be an industry leader in sustainable palm oil. As more and more donuts and Whoppers are sold, so will the demand for palm oil production. Since land in Indonesia and Malaysia is quite limited, a sustainable supply chain will be on the drawing board in the very near future for BK-TH. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the company to develop an innovative solution to the palm oil problem and even consider alternative oil sources that are easier to grow and less harmful for the environment.
In the meantime, stop blaming one large company for the destruction of the rainforest. The amount of products that affect this diverse and fragile ecosystem is incredibly diverse, so perhaps you should be critical of your own lifestyle choices and re-evaluate them first before you throwing the book at the heavyweight corporations. They do have a responsibility as industry leaders to act in an ethical manner, but at the end of the day, we buy the stuff they sell, so the control is ultimately in our hands.